Feds likely to file hate crimes charges in Charleston, New York Times reports

Charges would come on top of murder counts against accused shooter Dylann Storm Roof

By Sophia Tesfaye

Senior Politics Editor

Published June 24, 2015 9:03PM (EDT)

Mourners pay their respects outside Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, June 18, 2015.         (Reuters/Brian Snyder)
Mourners pay their respects outside Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, June 18, 2015. (Reuters/Brian Snyder)

The U.S. Justice Department likely will file federal hate crime charges against the Charleston church shooting suspect according to the New York Times.

Days after Rep. Wendell Gilliard (D), the South Carolina state lawmaker whose district includes the historic African-American church, vowed to reintroduce a statewide hate crime law that failed as recently as 2013, federal officials are looking to charge last week’s heinous attack as a hate crime.

Federal prosecutors have not decided whether to seek the death penalty against Roof, who has reportedly confessed to the killings, but the 21-year-old has been charged with nine counts of murder and one count of illegal possession of a firearm in the June 17 massacre at Emanuel AME Church.

Shortly after Roof was apprehended, Justice Department officials announced they were investigating the case as “a hate crime and as an act of domestic terrorism.”

South Carolina is just one of five states that does not have hate crime legislation. 51 hate crime incidents were reported in the state in 2013 and South Carolina is home to at least 19 hate groups, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

FBI analyst have concluded “with a high degree of certainty” that the racist manifesto that circulated online over the weekend did, in fact, belong to Roof. The FBI continues to examine Roof’s computer and phone.

According to the Times, a law enforcement official familiar with case said, “This directly fits the hate crime statute. This is exactly what it was created for.”

The Justice Department’s designation of a hate crime comes following FBI Director James Comey’s controversial conclusion last week that Roof’s attack did not meet the legal definition of terrorism. Comey explained that, “Terrorism is act of violence…to try to influence a public body or citizenry, so it’s more of a political act. And again based on what I know so far I don’t see it as a political act.”

But FBI Spokesman Paul Bresson, walked back Comey’s assertion today, telling MSNBC, “Both hate crime and domestic terrorism investigations afford investigators the same set of tools and techniques.”

By Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's senior editor for news and politics, and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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